A Defense of the Prices a Photographer Charges for Portraits

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss Otus 85mm f1.4 review images Lulu (1 of 4)ISO 4001-100 sec at f - 3.2

Dear Mom,

No, I won’t charge the friend you literally just met $30 for portraits. Would you do a Real Estate rental for free? No, I’m not just going “Click Click” and that’s all. There is a lot more work than just that that goes into proper portrait taking and it starts with you.

You, and all other human beings are self-conscious. It’s simple for you to say “Oh no, I don’t look good in that photo, don’t share it.” But do you know how much work goes into making you look good?

Let me explain.

Before I begin, please note that this takes years of trial, error, and learning how to use intuition, listening and people skills to figure out what works.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Samsung 85mm f1.4 review images (2 of 3)ISO 1001-800 sec at f - 1.4

But let’s begin. Sit down, have a coffee or a bit of this wonderful bourbon neat and a glass of water–you know, just in case you’re nervous. You say you want portraits done and I give you a price. You counter with the fact that you will not pay for me to simply take a couple of photos. The process of portrait-taking is more than just a picture-taking process–in fact, that’s the easiest part.

Let’s find out a couple of things about you. Who are you? What do you do? What do you do for fun? Talk to me about what a typical week is like for you? What do you spend most of the week doing? What do you like to do but honestly find yourself doing the most? Where are you from? How does your background influence who you are? What are the five most important things in life to you right now? What are your favorite foods? Do you like sports? What neighborhoods do you frequent?

A lot to ask, right? Well, I need to build a character portfolio about you to tell who you are through images. I just met you, so I need to know how I can put the best “you” forward. If you don’t like sports, then why would I put you in a Giants jersey?

A proper portrait can’t be taken without this knowledge and more importantly, without the knowledge of what questions to ask. A portrait photographer is a psychologist.

So let’s choose your clothing. Show me some options. You’ve got that button down, those pants, these belts, maybe these shoes, or maybe those. We need to figure out what clothes look best on your body and how we can make them look even better. Is that button down way too big for you? Let’s alter it with safety pins to make it look more form fitting.

A proper portrait can’t be taken without the knowledge of how to make clothes look better on your subjects and figuring out what works best. A portrait photographer can be a stylist.

Now, let’s get to the core of the self-consciousness. You don’t like the way that you look? Alright, let’s have you stand straight at me and let’s figure out which shoulder is higher. Then observe your posture. Then your chin. Then your hands, torso, legs and all parts as they’ll need to come out perfect in the photo.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer battle of the 85mm lenses portaits (7 of 9)

How do we do this? Through careful attention to detail.

A proper portrait can’t be taken without careful attention to details that will otherwise make you look awful. Yes, awful.

So we’ve got some poses down, now change them up a bit and let me shoot. Oh right, I know how to manipulate exposures. Want that bright backlit look that Kim Kardashian does? Sure, we can do that. Do you know how to manipulate exposures? What about depth of field? Do you know what lens will make your stomach bulge come out more?

What about lighting? Do you know how a flash or softbox can make you look better? Do you know how to do it with middle of the day lighting? What about how to use this reflector?

A proper portrait doesn’t need the best gear, but it’s the icing on the cake that lets a photographer get their creative vision across.

So what about editing? Want me to get rid of that zit? Cool, I can do that.

Getting the heal brush and making the right adjustment to just the right layer? That’ll be $1.

Knowing how to use the Heal brush, what it does and how to blend it correctly? That’ll be hours of trail and error, classes, etc.

So now, after a while of shooting, interviewing, editing etc we’ve got some beautiful images of you that you’re happy with. You’ve got many looks, poses, environments, etc to choose from. Put them on social media. Throw them up on LinkedIn. Or maybe that dating profile you’re working with. Go for it, they’re optimized for the web but if you want prints let me know and I’ll be able to do that at a price.

A proper portrait puts a smile on the person’s face.

And this is why I charge what I do. Not only is it a process, but I’m good at it. Your friend can’t pay for the hours of work and dedication that I put into my craft to make it perfect. They can’t take away the painful moments that I had becoming better and recouping my confidence. Were they there to help me get back up on my feet?

This is why I charge what I do. And if your friend can’t appreciate that, mom, then I can always find a paying client who does.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.